The Staging of History in Mid-Nineteenth-Century France: Daniel Auber's "Gustave III" (1833)

By:
Dr. Mark A. Pottinger
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The political and social events in France during the 1820s were so great that history was defined anew. The culmination of these events — beginning with the 1820 assassination of the heir to the throne — resulted in the Revolution of 1830, a historic occurrence that allowed many to identify with the earlier revolution of 1789. Inspired by the expansion of the empire with the conquest of Algiers and the possibility of a new society led by the 'roi des Français', the French generation of 1820 was "distinguished by its thirst for knowledge, its love of scholarship, and its devotion to the truth". Out of this engaging intellectual environment, the concept of the professional historian began to take root among individuals who perceived in the past a new reality that reflected themselves as well as the new political and cultural horizon. French grand opéra reflected this desire for historical knowledge by displaying a dramatic narrative akin to the writings of French academic historians.

This paper examines the historical sensibility in Daniel Auber's 'Gustave III' (1833) as evidenced by the libretto, 'mise-en-scène', and music. At the center of this investigation is the belief that grands opéras embrace the same historiographic narrative of revolution (à la Hayden White) as found in the writings of French historian Jules Michelet (1798-1874).

Such an investigation highlights the aesthetic and cultural importance of grand opéra, as well as the genre's relationship to French historiography of the period.


Keywords: July Monarchy, French Historiography, Hayden White, Jules Michelet, French Grand Opéra, French History Painting, Textual criticism, Visual rhetoric, Musical Analysis
Stream: History, Historiography
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Revolution of History in Mid-Nineteenth-Century France, The


Dr. Mark A. Pottinger

Assistant Professor of Music, Chairperson of the Fine Arts Dept., Department of Fine Arts, Manhattan College


Ref: H05P0017